In Her Own Words: Cristela Alonzo Talks Women In Comedy
Cristela Alonzo may not quite be a household name in comedy, but she should be. The Texas native has been doing standup comedy for almost 20 years, and became the first Latina to create, produce and star in her own network sitcom, “Cristela” for ABC in 2014, while she split time between Los Angeles and New York City to guest co-host several episodes of ABC’s “The View.”
In 2017, Alonzo made history again when she became the first Latina lead in a Disney Pixar film when she voiced the part of Cruz Ramirez in “Cars 3.” Her first stand-up special, 2017’s “Lower Classy,” as well as its follow-up, 2022’s “Middle Classy” are currently streaming on Netflix. Alonzo’s memoir, “Music To My Years,” was released in 2019 by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Pollstar: What are some of the challenges for women and Latinos in comedy?
Cristela Alonzo: I came up in a time where women were very sparse on lineups. [Bookers] think about comics as a quota. They’d say, “Well, we can’t have two women.” When you think that way, you’re not really thinking about the craft itself. You’re thinking about it as a demographic. You’re not thinking about anybody’s skills. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was told by comedy bookers that I was a “Latino comic.” I had to go to restaurants and bars and the makeshift shows that all the Latinos created. By then you got to work your way up to the Latino nightclubs.
One of the biggest accomplishments that you could get as a Latino comic was actually crossing over to other shows. In many clubs, they have one night a week that’s “Latin night” or “women’s night.” I’m Mexican-American and I’m a woman. There are very successful Latino comics, but on the comedy club side there’s still a lot of stagnant things, things that haven’t moved for women for the most part. It’s still like a demo is a box to check off. If you Googled the top three Los Angeles comedy clubs and you saw their lineups every week, the ratio of men to women would be glaring. And the men often get more than one set, so there are fewer open slots for women.
When we were putting this issue together, we were surprised there were no women in the Top 10 box office chart. What accounts for that?
A lot of the women that are really popular and hot right now are also creating and having production companies and doing their own thing. But I honestly feel like most of those guys really focus on just touring; that is their bread and butter. Women like Chelsea Handler do a lot of stuff. She writes books. Ali Wong, same thing – writing, directing. She’s done rom-coms and Netflix, everything. Same with Taylor Tomlinson. She’s very busy, very sought after. A lot of the female comics I know personally are not drawing as much because they’re actually working on other projects as well.
What can the live industry do to better support women comics?
A lot of times the comedy clubs will make you feel like you’re actually not the most important part of the show. It’s selling food and beverage. It’s like you’re there to sell nachos. So if you’re funny enough to sell a lot of nachos, they want you back, right? And often they think if they book women or Latinos, women and Latinos will automatically come, even though they don’t spend any money to advertise or market. Like the club owner who was really kind of annoyed with me that I didn’t sell tickets. And I’m like, “But you didn’t even advertise me.”
What do you make of the old trope that women aren’t funny? Is that still out there?
There was more of that 15 years ago. The first time I was playing in San Antonio, in a club that no longer exists, I was told that people don’t think women are funny and they were going to offer me something like $600 for eight shows. But the average rate for a comic to headline was usually like $1,200 or $1,500. But I will say that nowadays with social media, there is an opportunity to see more women and to actually be surprised by them because that notion of having a gatekeeper has been shattered.